Drugs

'Wheelchair-Bound' Man Launches Human Rights Complaint Over Legal Weed Regime

Ken Harrower says Ontario’s cannabis retail system is too expensive, not accessible, and doesn't carry the products he needs.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
May 1, 2019, 4:29pm
Ken Harrower is launching a complaint against Ontario's legal weed system.
Ken Harrower. Photo via CNW Group/Selwyn Pieters Law

A Toronto man whose medical conditions require him to use a wheelchair is launching a human rights complaint arguing that Ontario’s legal recreational cannabis system is discriminatory against people who have disabilities or have low income.

Ken Harrower, 57, uses cannabis to treat symptoms from his joint disorder arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (an inflammation of the lungs), and celiac disease, according to a news release published by his lawyer.

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Harrower cannot smoke weed. He needs to consume it by eating gluten-free edibles—which are not legally available for sale in Canada through either the medical or recreational systems—or by chewing raw cannabis. In addition to receiving funding from the Ontario Disability Support Program, Harrower panhandles to cover his expenses.

Harrower alleges the Ontario Cannabis Store, which is in charge of the province’s legal weed retail scheme, has discriminated against him because it’s too expensive for him, doesn’t carry the products he needs, and can’t provide him with on-demand access because the physical stores are closed on holidays. He said two of the brick and mortar stores in Toronto, Ameri and The Hunny Pot have turned him away because they are not wheelchair accessible, and are too far away from his home. There are no legal storefronts for medical cannabis patients—it remains online only.

VICE has reached out to Ontario Cannabis Store for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

In an email statement, Cameron Brown, spokesman for The Hunny Pot, told VICE the store offers a temporary ramp for customers with accessibility needs. He said the shop’s inventory is constantly being updated but that it is working to “satisfy all of our customers.” Brown also said the store can’t legally open on statutory holidays and that its location is transit friendly.

Harrower also said the province’s online retailer is discriminatory because it only accepts credit card payments, and has a prohibitive $5 shipping fee, which sometimes doubles his small orders. As a result, Harrower said he has been forced to shop at black market weed shops but he is concerned about being criminalized.

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Harrower launched the challenge against the Attorney General of Ontario, the Office of the Premier of Ontario, and the Toronto Police Service through the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

“I am unable to access regulated products which would help me to alleviate my symptoms. I have been to the other newly-created retailers in Toronto and they turned me away,” Harrower said in the release. “The OCS cannot provide me with urgent, on-demand access and it is far too expensive for me. I am here today to help others facing a similar situation."

Cannabis lawyer Jack Lloyd, who is working on the case, said Harrower has a right to access medicine in a dignified manner.

“The current recreational and medical cannabis models do not provide many individuals like Mr. Harrower with sufficient access to their medicine,” Lloyd said in the release. “It goes without saying that criminalizing people like Ken, or the compassionate people who supply him with his medical cannabis at a time when no functional access exists, is an insult to his dignity as a human being.”

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